Freedom in Congo Square

freedom-in-congo-squareA 2017 Caldecott Honor Book

Written by Carole Boston Weatherford, Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

From sun up to sun down, Monday through Saturday, work was all the slaves could do. Yet, through it all, when Sunday came, they all had one afternoon of freedom. With spirits soaring, they sang, danced and created joy in the early 1800s in New Orleans, Louisiana. “Here, at least for a half a day, they could feel free from their oppression.” (back cover) And from that freedom and the mingling of people from West and Central West Africa, West Indies, and other parts of the United States, an amazing and revolutionary style of music was born—jazz. Freedom in Congo Square captures the oppression of slavery with the long, hard work days as well as the anticipation of Sunday when they could gather and be free. Told in poetic verse, with colorful and fluid illustrations, this book brings history alive and shines a brilliant spot of creativity and talent that could not be squelched by the injustice and persecution of slavery. I think this book would make a welcome addition to any history section of a library.

Review by Renee Larsen, Hillside Elementary Media Center
Rating: ★★★★★ (5 stars)
Interest Level: Grades K-3 or anyone interested in history

This sparse, rhythmic, rhyming text goes through each day of the week describing the work of slaves and their anticipation of Sunday, the joyful day at Congo Square. At Congo Square there is celebration of their roots, culture and traditions. They have a market, music, and dance where they gather, mix, and mingle. This is a historical book based on the actual Congo Square in New Orleans where the law set aside Sundays as a day of rest for the slaves and Congo Square gave them a glimpse of freedom. The author’s note at the back of the book is interesting and insightful. The rich earth colored illustrations reflect African celebration and passion. This is an important book. It depicts the inhumanity of slavery, in a delicate way for small children to understand. I wish I had known about Congo Square, now known as Louis Armstrong Park, when I was in New Orleans. I would definitely like to have observed the celebration that still occurs every week to immortalize the place of slavery in our history and the evolution of jazz, which came from African rhythms that were kept alive in Congo Square.

Review by Terrie Bishop, Academy Park Elementary Media Center
Rating: ★★★★✩ (4 stars)
Interest Level: K-6

This is a beautifully illustrated picture book, about a time in history that can be very hard to explain to children. It starts off with the forward that explains how Congo Square was established and why it was so important to many groups of people to get to have a place to gather and share their ideas and music. The book focuses on the Africans who were brought over as slaves and had to work sun up to sun down, but on Sundays, “O glorious Day,” they were able to gather with loved ones and others from their community to sing, dance and play music that represented their feelings and how they felt as a people and how it would feel to be free, and express yourself without fear of reprisal.

Review by Angela Pratt, Hillsdale Elementary Media Center
Rating: ★★★★½ (4.5 stars)
Interest Level: K-6

In New Orleans, there was a place call Congo Square. Sundays the square came alive, slaves were allowed to be free and dance, sing and forget about their everyday struggles. I really enjoy the way this book was written. It was educational but it also made you feel the joy that breaking free for a day brought.

Review by Jodie Uriarte, Copper Hills Elementary Media Center
Rating: ★★★✩✩ (3 stars)
Interest Level: 4th – 12th

Slaves in New Orleans, Louisiana worked 6 days of the week very hard. On Sunday they could celebrate in one spot, Congo Square. They were able to dance, play music, sell goods and enjoy each others company before starting their hard routine over again on Monday morning.

I liked the way the author explained the history. She had a glossary of words that may not be familiar to the readers. She also gave more information in the back under “Author’s Note”. For younger students this is a good review of the days of the week and a good count down until Sunday. I felt the pictures and writing gave a good picture of what they did each day.

Review by Carmen Southern, Pioneer Elementary Media Center
Rating: ★★★★★ (5 stars)
Interest Level: Grades K-3

Freedom in Congo Square
Written by Carole Boston Weatherford, Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Little Bee Books
34 pages
Release Date: January 5, 2016

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